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A Web Address of Their Own
By Steven Ehrenberg

Internet cafe
Iraqis check the e-mail in a private Internet cafe in Baghdad, Iraq, on May 21, 2003.
(Photo: Murad Sezer/AP Wide World)
July 2004—Iraqis may have their own government, but they'll have to wait awhile for their own Web address.

Most countries have two-letter Internet codes at the end of Web addresses, like ".uk" for the United Kingdom or ".zw" for Zimbabwe.

But not Iraq. Its Internet code, ".iq," was operated by a Texas company that sold computers to the Middle East. The company owners, five brothers, are on trial for sending money to Islamic extremists. While the company is tied up in court, ".iq" belongs to no one.

"To me, having '.iq' is probably one of the most important steps toward giving Iraq its identity and independence," said Hisham Ashkouri, an Iraqi-born architect who is helping to redesign and rebuild Baghdad.

Virtual Iraq

The organization that decides who gets which Web site is a California-based company called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The company also settles arguments over domain names, so that, for instance, another coffee company can't register the address www.starbucks.com.

The application process to turn over ".iq" to Iraqis may take many months. Some Americans and Iraqis are petitioning ICANN to hurry up.

In the meantime, Iraqis who want their own Web sites will have to use international codes such as ".com," ".org," and ".net." But the catchy Web addresses ending in those codes are already taken. The owner of an Internet café in Baghdad, for example, would find that the address www.baghdadcafe.com has been snatched up . . . by a company in Washington, D.C. The solution to that problem would be to use www.baghdadcafe.iq.

About 12 percent of Iraqis own a computer, and 6 percent have access to the Internet. But computer use is on the rise. More and more Internet cafes have sprouted up in Baghdad since the end of the war.

"We need [the code], like, yesterday," said Asaad Alnajjar. He has volunteered to run a nonprofit organization that would take over the ".iq" address and help Iraqis create their own Web sites.

Alnajjar says that he could have the code up and running in three days, if ICANN gave him permission. At the very least, he wants to show the Iraqi flag and the words "Republic of Iraq" on www.iraq.iq, "to show that there is a country," he says.